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The image is a black-and-white, lithographic crayon drawing, and it resides in Harvard’s Fogg Museum of American Art, an image of three men in various stages of dress in what appears to be the corner of a wooden shed or perhaps a barn. In the right background, seated in a darkened corner of the shed is a man, wearing only a shirt, leaning forward and pulling on his left sock. Even more shadowy and obscured are three men on the left of the drawing — one standing and apparently toweling off his face; another, nude and seated on the planked floor with his back to the painter; and a third, a baronial older man in derby and jacket, seated on the bench in the hazy background. You would likely not recognize it as an image of small-town, turn-of-the-century baseball but for its title: Sweeney, the Idol of the Fans, Had Hit a Home Run. More… “George Bellows: America’s Artist on the National Pastime”

Jay Thomas, Ed.D., is a professor of education at Aurora University in Aurora, IL, where he teaches courses on learning, motivation, and research methods. His publications include books and articles on assessment and gifted education, but he is equally proud of his baseball writing, which has appeared in Elysian Fields Quarterly and The National Pastime.

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The Parson Weems moment, the young-Washington-chopping-down-the-cherry-tree moment, in the accepted mythology of George Herman “Babe” Ruth involves a kindly mentor who first spots the hint of deity under the hardscrabble-boy exterior. It was Xaverian Brother Mathias at Baltimore’s St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys who first took Ruth into gentle tutelage in the art and science of baseball. There are a few persistent apocryphal tales from those years: tales of the teenage Babe beginning to display the eye and reflexes that would one day make him one of baseball’s most underestimated pitchers and the sheer hitting power that would earn him immortality as the Wazir of Wham.

It’s a familiar device, these Parson Weems stories. They grow up entwined in the facts of their subjects’ biographies, covering the bare dates and facts with a green and shifting foliage of folklore.

No other figure from the world of 20th-century sports equals Babe Ruth’s folklore status — with only one exception: Muhammad Ali. The self-proclaimed “greatest,” the heavyweight champion boxer who taunted his opponents, sang his own praises, and by turns charmed and infuriated the world, had his own Parson Weems moment, or rather a one-two combination of them, and fittingly, it was a combination of outrage and showmanship — and the Parson was a cop. More… “Ali Alive”

Steve Donoghue is a reader, editor, and writer living in Boston surrounded by books and dogs. He’s one of the founding editors of the literary journal Open Letters Monthly and the author of one of its book­blogs, Stevereads. HIs work has appeared in The National, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and The Quarterly Conversation, among others. He tweets as @stdonoghue.

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Baseball has been getting drilled a lot lately, as if the sport itself had too demonstrably celebrated a home run and now had to deal with a pitcher dealing out comeuppance in the form of some chin music.

The game is chastised for being too slow, for being out of stride with our most pacey digital age where even the two line text is thought too long. The NFL is what Americans want: big, brutal, and fast, words you’d never associate with our former national pastime. More… “Two-Seam Tunes”

Colin Fleming’s fiction appears in Harper’s, Commentary, Virginia Quarterly Review, AGNI, and Boulevard, with other work running in The Atlantic, Salon, Rolling Stone, The New York Times, and JazzTimes. He is a regular guest on NPR’s Weekend Edition and Downtown with Rich Kimball, in addition to various radio programs and podcasts. His last book was The Anglerfish Comedy Troupe: Stories from the Abyss, and he has two books forthcoming in 2018: Buried on the Beaches: Cape Stories for Hooked Hearts and Driftwood Souls, and a volume examining the 1951 movie Scrooge as a horror film for the ages. Find him on the web at colinfleminglit.com.

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Baseball has almost always centered on one thing, which sounds reductionist, but isn’t terribly uncommon for a sport. Hockey, for instance, is all about time and space. If you are an offensive player, you wish to create time and space; if you are a defensive player, your goal is to limit both. Baseball has long been about pitching. Even the most successful batsman records an out 70% of the time. Everything is slanted towards the pitcher. Pitching is what wins games in October, and even offensive postseason heroics are often more a matter of timing — the clutch hit, that is — rather than sustained excellence.

Pitching has failed to rule the roost exactly twice: during the steroid era, when hitters began putting up numbers you’d never even say you accrued in a summer of Wiffle ball against your younger sister, and when one of the sport’s prospective pitching legends showed everyone he was that much better at hitting, and thus proceeded to overhaul America’s then-pastime. After which, when it was all over, everyone had come to know the value of pitching even more.
More… “Leaving the Mound”

Colin Fleming’s fiction appears in Harper’s, Commentary, Virginia Quarterly Review, AGNI, and Boulevard, with other work running in The Atlantic, Salon, Rolling Stone, The New York Times, and JazzTimes. He is a regular guest on NPR’s Weekend Edition and Downtown with Rich Kimball, in addition to various radio programs and podcasts. His last book was The Anglerfish Comedy Troupe: Stories from the Abyss, and he has two books forthcoming in 2018: Buried on the Beaches: Cape Stories for Hooked Hearts and Driftwood Souls, and a volume examining the 1951 movie Scrooge as a horror film for the ages. Find him on the web at colinfleminglit.com.

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On April 11, 1969, Major League Baseball made its debut in the city of Seattle to a raucous crowd of 17,000 fans. On a pleasant, sunny, breezy sixty-degree day in the hastily renovated Sick’s Stadium, the expansion Seattle Pilots defeated the Chicago White Sox seven to nothing. Gary Bell, the ace of the pitching staff, threw a complete game. Heck, he even helped his own cause by smacking a two-run double in the sixth inning. Don Mincher, the cleanup hitter and proverbial slugger of the lineup, belted a long home run in the third. All was right in the Pacific Northwest, at least for the day. As the Seattle Times put it in the next morning’s headline, “Twas a Perfect Day, for Weather and Score.”

It was not to last. The Pilots arrived in a city that wanted — some would say needed — a professional sports franchise to solidify… More…

My favorite baseball team has been in a slump for over 20 years, and this year, their season is not starting well. Could poetry help in any way?

— Henry

I’m going to give you two answers: one that reflects my idealistic opinion that poetry can fix everything by virtue of simply being itself, and one that is more practical (but ultimately reflects the idea that poetry can fix everything).

The Poetry-Can-Fix-Everything-Simply-By-Being-Poetry Solution: Fans have shouted chants and slogans and other lines of light verse to opposing teams for years: “We want a pitcher/ Not a belly itcher!”  Nowadays, there isn’t so much of that clever heckling going on, so I think you should bring it back. This advice does come from my inner 10-year-old, so take it with a grain of salt:  Write some jeering lines of light verse for every fielder and shout them or print them on posters… More…

 

Based on the headlines I’ve skimmed, the World Series spurs a lot of questions — questions I don’t really care about involving starters and lineups and blah blah blah. I’ve got a question: How about that Philly Phanatic?!

If the Phanatic takes top billing this Series it’s partly because, well, New York doesn’t have a mascot. I suppose it reflects a minimalist sensibility that non-New York cities lack the confidence to adopt, but whatever the reason, the absence of a mascot is a point of pride. In a 2001 New York Times story on the injuries sports mascots suffer in the line of duty — broken legs, heat exhaustion — writer George Vecsey noted: “It is a tribute to my hometown, New York, that mascots are generally not seen cavorting on the playing fields. New York fans become engrossed… More…